Who Knew?

Years ago when the Wright brothers were trying launch their first flying pram do you think they even dreamed of what air travel would become? To me, it’s still a miracle that a hunk of steel leaves the ground, literally sucked up into the air by simply going very very fast and thus driving air over the curved surface of a wing. I love looking out the window, marvelling at the whole process. But how many other people think that as they squeeze into their thirty centimetres of allocated leg room in baggage class, praying that, again this time, please God, don’t let me drop dead from DVT?

One of the last times I sat on a jet was Gatwick Airport, just south of London. The rain was coming down incessantly, making fast moving vertical streaks down the window and leaving trails of perfect transparent hemispheres. I found myself morbidly wondering what would happen if we took off with the wings all covered in water. Wouldn’t it all freeze up once we got above the clouds and cause the control surfaces to seize up? Did Frank Whittle think about the effect so much water would have when it went through one of his jet engines?

On reflection, he must have done because, of course, planes fly through clouds so they’re going to encounter a lot of water. But does it harm the jet to try burning water vapour like that? Okay, I wasn’t really looking for serious answers. I was simply wondering about stuff because we were sitting on the tarmac while a catering truck meandered its way over to stock up the plane and wasted half an hour of my time in the process. “The catering people were unable to get past some baggage trucks,” the captain told us. What would the Wright bros have thought of that?

Eventually, we taxied out to the runway and joined the queue waiting to take off. Our turn comes and the jets grow louder, blasting water back off the ground and turning the rain into steam. The vertical streaks on the window start moving at more of an angle as we thunder along. Forty five degrees, thirty degrees, twenty. Eventually the rain is moving horizontally across and then… it stops altogether. As we lift off the ground, water is blasted off the aircraft by the sheer force of air pressure and in a few minutes we’re up where the sun always shines. It’s minus 70 degrees Fahrenheit out there but it’s heaven.

So rain water doesn’t hang around on a jet aircraft’s control surfaces long enough to become a control hazard. The plane simply moves too fast. There’s the answer but really, who knew?

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